Editor’s Note — Tying Your Tie is the first in a series about things that my father taught me and continues to teach me. December 24th is his birthday and I thought this was an appropriate way to celebrate him. Additional stories may include values observed in other fathers, popular stories about dads and more.
The act of tying a tie is timeless. It can be a tired step-by-step tutorial monotonously droning through each motion. Or it can be a window into one of the many ways that fathers guide their sons. In this case it is the latter.
I’ve always interpreted business professional to mean a suit and tie. To begin with a suit is just pants and a jacket. Generally these require the same amount of thought needed to put on socks and underwear. Then it’s down to the shirt and tie.
Usually choosing a shirt and tie requires you to have some knowledge of color and pattern theory. However that is usually something that you work out during the time of purchase. Unless the shirt or tie was a gift.
I remember being a little boy. In particular standing enraptured, watching my father tying his tie every Sunday morning before church. He made it look easy. Sometimes the perfectionist came out and he would start over and mumble about the length of the knot.
In the end the knot always looked like a triangle. It reminded me of a sigil. I even imagined that it once held a jewel or crest.
I also have an early childhood memory when I was watching the television show Eight is Enough. This was the one where David gets married, and I watched Dick van Patten, the oft-beleaguered patriarch, trying to tie his tie while having overlapping conversations with his wife and many children.
How much practice, I wondered, did it take for him to be able to do that without messing up? Will I work at a job that requires wearing a tie? What if I don’t know how to tie a tie by then?
This became a pressing concern one summer morning in Los Angeles about 17 years ago. It was the year I moved to Los Angeles with an aspiring actor. I was one semester shy of my bachelor’s degree, but I needed a day job to keep my finances from drying up.
For the most part I had worked my way through college by working security and bartending. My girlfriend at the time wanted me to get. a daytime job. Soon I was sending out resumes for every job that seemed like a chance.
Eventually I landed an interview at a talent agency. I woke up the morning of my interview and showered. Then I dressed and threw on my shirt, slinging a blue tie across my neck before walking into the bathroom to face the mirror
I started by crossing the left side over the right, but the next step felt wrong. So, I took a deep breath and tried not to panic. I started over and this time I crossed the right Side with the left. I froze. It was time for help.
I grabbed my cell phone — still a newer concept for me back then — and called my dad. When he answered I switched to speakerphone.
“Hey dad,” I said.
“Morning Seth,” he answered.
“I’ll be quick,” I started. “I have to leave for an interview soon, and I can’t remember how to tie a tie. Can you walk me through it?”
I don’t think more than a second passed before he replied.
“Well,” he said. “Are you standing in front of a mirror?”
During what seemed like an hour, and was likely no more than five minutes, my dad walked me through each step until I had tightened a decent Windsor knot.
After that day, I made it a point to practice the steps my dad had told me at least once a day. This continued for at least two years I learned until I could tie my tie with my eyes closed.
As a result, it became a meditative exercise to close my eyes and let my hands repeat the motions. Later coworkers at my job would stop me in the hallway to ask me if I would tie their tie for them. When I gave it back to them they would beam with pride. Some even asked if I would teach them.
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